Claude Monet - The Garden of the Princess 1867

The Garden of the Princess 1867
The Garden of the Princess
1867 61х91cm oil/canvas
Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio, USA

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From Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin:
his panoramic view of the Quai du Louvre and Left Bank portrays the city of Paris as both stately monument and bustling, modern metropolis. Painted shortly after the opening of the Paris World's Fair, the work is one of several important views of the city painted by Monet, Manet, and Renoir in 1867.
In the spring of 1867 Monet was granted official permission to install himself and his easel in an east end balcony of the Louvre. The resulting paintings are Monet's earliest images of Paris: the Quai du Louvre (The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum); Oberlin's Jardin de l'Infante, painted from nearly the same viewpoint; and St. Germain-l'Auxerrois (Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Nationalgalerie). These works belong to a critical moment within Monet's formation of an idiom for painting modern life. Previously, Monet's most ambitious paintings--Déjeuner sur l'Herbe or Femmes au Jardin (both 1866; Paris, Musée d'Orsay)--had focused on the individual comportment and dress of middle-class men and women taking their leisure in intimate, outdoor settings. The Paris views multiply and disperse these figures within a broad expanse of space and atmospheric phenomena, amidst a wide variety of incident, movement, and activity.
In siting his three Paris paintings at the quai and place du Louvre, Monet could depict a central thoroughfare that had been recently enlarged, repaved, and refurbished, and at the same time, include clearly recognizable portraits of a set of historical Paris monuments. The title and foreground is given to the stately geometry of the Garden of the Princess, whose name evokes the once royal, then imperial, pedigree of the Louvre's inhabitants. Crowning the view is the cupola of the Pantheon, resting place of the great men of French history; flanking it to the left and right are the bell tower of St.-Etienne-du-Mont and the cupola of the Val du Grace. The façades, attics, and chimneys at the far left indicate the Place Dauphine on the Ile de la Cité; further back and extending to the right are the buildings along the Left Bank. The tall, dark foliage behind the younger chestnut trees along the quai both signal and obscure the pointe or terminus of the Cité, where the French flag is planted.
Wedged between the chestnut trees and the garden are the place and quai du Louvre, where dozens of figures in transit--riding, strolling, striding, or pausing--are briefly noted and dressed with a few blunt strokes of the brush. The contrast in execution between the buildings and the figures--the attention to detail, surface, and tonal gradation in much of the architecture, and the approximate, improvisational strokes of physiognomy and movement in the figures--suggests a complementary relationship between the city's historical continuities and the dynamic exchanges of contemporary life.
While offering a convincing view of a familiar site, Monet's Paris paintings do not aim for topographical precision. The effects of format and composition are evident when one compares the Jardin de L'Infante with the straightforward though more diffuse organization of the Quai du Louvre at The Hague. The clear shapes of the Oberlin canvas are stacked vertically, from the quai to the sky; while this area is viewed straight on, the garden is viewed from above. The axial disposition of the Oberlin composition is the most complex of the three Paris views. The central, vertical axis created by the Pantheon competes with the elusive slope of the quai and (invisible) Seine; the garden expands beyond the frame of the picture at a sharp angle. Robert Herbert has discussed these elisions and oblique viewpoints as a careful orchestration of the casual, random appearance of things in the modern experience of the city. At the same time, the composition's various symmetries and regular patterns invoke the ordered, controlling aspects of the newly planned city.
The Jardin de l'Infante also demonstrates the persistence--and the peculiarity--of realism in Monet's practice in the 1860s. While his later Impressionist paintings of the boulevards present a homogeneous field of painted marks, creating a strict unity of vision and sensation, the Jardin de l'Infante modulates its brushwork, address, and tonality to register differences in things: from the thicket of grey, white, and blue marks clouding the sky to the seamless expanse of the lawn; from the bright, neutral pavement to the daubed layers of foliage; and from one (briefly indicated) urban type, silhouette, or posture to another.
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